2020 All-America City Finalist – Topeka, KS

Topeka has a long history of inclusion, diversity and civic engagement. Topeka was part of the free-state movement and home to John Ritchie, a Kansas abolitionist and operator of a station on the Underground Railroad. Topeka was also home to the iconic Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954.

Recognizing the need to build from the legacy of its past, leaders in Topeka developed a strategy to guide community action. The Momentum 2022 Strategy establishes what Topeka-Shawnee County must do to measurably improve access to opportunity for all people and organizations to experience increased hope, health, happiness, and prosperity. The highlighted projects show that they are well on their way to meeting these goals.

Community Health Improvement Plan
After receiving low health rankings, Topeka sought to address the health and well-being of residents through a Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA).

To maximize participation from community stakeholders and residents, Topeka developed a comprehensive, yet easy to answer, community survey to help identify specific health needs. Paper surveys and electronic surveys, available in both English and Spanish, were shared with community partners and organizations across Shawnee County.

After analyzing the initial survey data, three roundtable discussions were organized to get initial feedback from community members on the findings. The roundtable locations were selected because the zip codes were identified as areas with the highest health disparities and/or minimal engagement in the past. A large key stakeholder town hall was also held.

All the primary data collected from the stakeholder town hall, roundtable discussions and CHNA surveys was analyzed and a final report, with 8 health priorities, was published and presented to the CHNA/CHIP Steering Committee.

One of the projects resulting from the health assessment was The Pine Ridge Partnership, an organization of Topeka community partners who develop and support initiatives to serve Tampa Housing Authority families. The partnership is designed to enhance the success of the families in the Pine Ridge Manor community by delivering placed-based and two-generational initiatives. THA leadership utilizes community conversations, surveys and focus groups to determine resident priorities. As a result, the Pine Ridge Family Health Center (PRFHC), a primary care clinic located within the Pine Ridge Manor public housing community was established.   

Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library
The Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, along with 30 community partners, has joined the United Way of Greater Topeka (UWGT) in the Shawnee County Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SNCO-CGLR) program. This initiative seeks to create a community culture of literacy, love for learning and student success through several projects:

  • Dr. Seuss’ Birthday – The SNCO-CGLR program celebrates Dr. Seuss’ Birthday, nationally known as “Read Across America” day. Last year, the celebration included a book distribution to approximately 1,500 students.
  • Book Rich Environment Initiative – This multi-sector collaboration brings the culture of books to public housing communities through:
    • Book Distribution – free, high quality, diverse books provided to children and families living in HUD-assisted housing.
    • Library Engagement– young people and families engaged in the love of reading and connected with the ongoing literacy activities offered by the local public library.
    • Partnership Building– strategic partnerships on the local level, established between the local public housing authority, the local library and local literacy partners to develop and deliver ongoing community and educational programming.
  • Read and Ride After completing a bike safety course, youth received bikes and equipment and participated in the Read & Ride event, which included three stops along the ride where participants listened to book readings by “celebrity readers.”
  • Summer Learning Day – Twenty community partners set up interactive booths in the Topeka Shawnee County Public library. Three hundred (300) children and 100 adults participated in activities including: book giveaways, crafts, obstacle courses, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities and a mascot dance-off. 

Impact Avenues and Topeka’s Freedom’s Path
Impact Avenues
Impact Avenues is a program designed to help school age children and their families get out of homelessness. More than 30 agency partners are working together to improve the quality of life for students.

To qualify for Impact Avenues, a student is referred through a school district liaison. When approved for services, participating families meet one-on-one with their intensive case manager to assess their needs. Each week, families meet in a single location and visit with all the agencies the case manager feels are needed. In a two-hour period, the family can meet with as many as 10 agencies, addressing needs such as credit repair, mental health, employment, child support and cash assistance, substance abuse and housing. The program provides intensive “wrap around” case management for a minimum of two years.

Freedom Path
The issue of human trafficking is a serious threat in Kansas, in part because of the geographical location on Interstates 70 and 35. Topeka’s Freedom’s Path program offers education and outreach services to victims of human trafficking. To address the root causes of human trafficking, Freedom’s Path engaged stakeholders in discussions about innovative ways for organizations to understand that human trafficking is a common enemy.  After spending more than a year building consensus, cross-community teams developed concrete action plans to reduce vulnerabilities such as poverty, addiction, lack of access to mental health care, lack of stable family and housing structures and other social ills that create human trafficking.

The Freedom’s Path program has been successful in disrupting the trafficking pattern, removing individuals from the trafficking systems and providing resources to trafficking victims.

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